This week our lectionary guide leaves us a while longer in the wilderness. Be still for a while. Breathe in the silence. Listen: a voice sounds:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill
shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made
and the rough ways made
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ Luke 3:4-6 NRSV
It is John the Baptist, speaking then, and speaking now: calling us to clear the road of all the clutter which gets in the way. Clutter which may be hidden behind bright lights and the urge to buy. (After all, Christmas is about gifts, isn’t it?) But the clutter can get in the way of God’s coming among us. When the King of heaven comes, our pedigree will not help us here; no special name cards and seats at the banquet because we were born into the right family and faith tradition. Pointing to the stones on the ground, and in the bed of the river, John reminds us all that “God is able from these stones to raise up children . . . “
If our family history cannot help us, then what do we need? What must we do to be ready, to see the salvation of our God? To be rescued by God from the clutches and trauma of the world’s ways?
As we wait on the banks of the river, we realize that baptism is a beginning. This ritual of entering into the water, being washed, dying to our past way of living and rising to new life (Romans 6:1-4) and being indwelt by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – as the water is poured over our body – does prepare us for Jesus’ coming. Jesus comes in countless ways, and moves to greater and greater depth within our person and being. Here we begin to know the presence and peace of God which invades our heart, surpasses all understanding, and which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7)
This baptism – and each renewal of our baptism — carries all this meaning – the action of God within us. What does this presence and work of God within us look like?
That is the question of the crowd, the tax collectors, and the military. John knows the poverty of the masses: how little they earn, and how much they are taxed, how hungry they are when the harvest is not good, and how few clothes children, men, and women have to wear. To them he says, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
In this way we clear the way for the coming of Jesus, and enter into Jesus’ work to “save the lame and gather the outcast” and “change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.” (Zephaniah 3:19)
To the tax collectors – those who collected taxes from the Israelites to pay the Roman occupation political and military machine, and who demanded more than was required to line their own pockets – John says: “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” They are to turn from their greed, to be honest and fair, and not to use their office for their own gain.
To the military John says, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” Again, a call to turn from greed and mis-use of power. And a reminder to learn to be satisfied with what they do receive in the way of earnings.
These tangible, but life-changing changes are just a beginning. But such actions of generosity, turning from greed, and being content with less, are ways in which we become awake to Jesus’ coming. We are prepared to meet and welcome him in the many ways in which he comes–beyond his birth in the manger in Bethlehem.
This baptismal turning results in basic change of how we see others, and how we loosen our grip on things, money, and power.
This week, pay attention to how the Spirit of Jesus addresses you as you ask, “What then should I do?” Notice how you respond, and what changes within you as you do.
You come to us
In the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Help me to be present to you –
To be with you,
To listen —
With the ears of my heart.
Continue to free me from the stuff of this world which holds me captive.
Lead me in your Way of life.
Season of Advent: week 3
12/10 Monday: Luke 3:7-14
12/11 Tuesday: Luke 3:14-18
12/12 Wednesday: Isaiah 12:2-6
12/13 Thursday: Zephaniah 3:14-20
12/14 Friday: Philippians 4:4-7
12/15 Saturday: Luke 3:7-14
12/16 Sunday: Luke 3:14-18